Revolution, Then Evolution: Apple and the iPhone 5

I’ve seen a few commentary articles about the iPhone 5 announcement that are referring to the new iteration as boring. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s no longer a revolution like the original one was. New Macs are nice to look at, but in reality who really cares how much the industrial design changes—it’s the one aspect of the device you almost never interact with. It’s the box the toy comes in.

I’m an Apple geek and I pay attention to the rumors before a new device is expected. Typically they are blown out of proportion and way off the mark. This is due to one simple fact: most people seem to misunderstand Apple.

I’ve been using a Mac since 1994. The one thing that stands out in Apple’s product lines since the return of Steve Jobs is that of a long period of refinement after a burst of innovation. The iPhone has been a perfect example of this approach.

The first iPhone was a revolution. I don’t care how much you hate Apple, you cannot get around the fact that Apple changed the computer industry and the mobile phone industry completely, and without precedent. Much like they did with the original Macintosh. Apple does not create products for consumers. If they did, they would redesign the iPhone radically every time one was released to cash in on the “shiny new thing” phenomenon that seems to work so well with people. They would add new gee-whiz features and functions to beef up the bullet point lists in their ads. Apple has no interest in this, but their competitors do: bigger screens, emerging technology, and other glitter designed to attract the masses.

Rarely does Apple do this. They wait. They add the best version of a new technology once it has proven itself. In fact, Apple is much more likely to remove things that people think are required rather than add something superfluous (think: the iMac and the floppy disk drive).

My first iPhone was an iPhone 3G, but I didn’t feel Apple actually delivered on the promise of the iPhone until the iPhone 4. In terms of the industrial design, the speed, the networking and the display, the iPhone 4 was the point when the iPhone truly arrived as a complete device. It was a device that did not (and still doesn’t) frustrate the user. It “just works”, and disappears behind the real star of the show: the apps.

With the iPhone 5, Apple is now refining that achievement. This comes as no surprise. At least to me. I’ve yet to hold one in my hands, but reports of it being slimmer and lighter are just what the iPhone 4/4S needed. To be honest, I’m not even all that excited about the bigger screen, but my tune may change once I’ve experienced it. Personally, I like the smallness of the iPhone 4. I don’t want a pocket computer, I want the pocket communicator that Jobs touted the original iPhone as.

I won’t say I’m not disappointed at better camera specs, but again I’ve yet to use the improved camera technology which might compensate for the lack of a new sensor or more megapixels. The battery life is longer than the 4S, but not by much, and again that’s something I’d like to see improved even if I’ve almost rarely had the battery get to 25% during a regular day of usage.

I’m not really sure what they naysayers expect out of a smartphone these days. What exactly are they expecting to see added that would sate their appetite for new? What exactly have Android phones brought to the table that satisfy this craving? The iPhone 5 is exactly the iPhone I wanted: an improved version of something I already like.

It’s said that crystal meth is such an evil drug because it burns out the receptors in the brain that deliver the high, resulting in an inability for the addict to ever reach that first high again. I think we are seeing the same with Apple and each successive iPhone launch. The initial iPhone was a true revolution that happened in front of our eyes, and we clamor to have that same sense of amazement every time a new model is revealed. But those neurons are long gone.

The attention should be focused where I look nowadays: at iOS. I’ve casually played with Android-based devices, most recently a Samsung Galaxy S2. I liked it. It was fluid, the screen was nice, the device was light, I even liked the big screen. But what interests me more is the software. The iPhone is closed down in ways that make Android appealing. To date, nothing that would spur me to switch allegiances, but still there are things that do make me wish Apple would include them—even in a limited fashion—in iOS. I don’t need actual widgets, but dynamic home screen icons would be nice. I don’t need 3rd-party apps to be able to access deep levels of iOS, but some inter-app communication would be extremely welcome. But that’s a whole other post in itself.

I’m glad the iPhone 5 is what everyone expected. I would have been disappointed had it been less. But I don’t need to have my mind blown every time a new iPhone makes its way out of Cupertino. What I do want to see is more, and much more, from iOS 7 and beyond.

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